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The Philippine Navy Has A Lot Of New Stuff

June 22, 2019

Via Philippine Navy.

This week the Philippine Navy (PN) marked its 121st birthday at its largest base with a semi-public exhibition of new equipment. The highlights were the first batch of four Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) purchased from South Korea and two AW159 Wildcat ASW helicopters meant for the PN’s upcoming multi-mission frigates. The AAVs are licensed copies of the AAV-7’s used by the US Marine Corps and represent a boost for the Philippine Marines, whose modernization has long been neglected. The PN marines are expecting a total of eight AAV’s by 2020, giving them enhanced ship-to-shore capabilities.

President Duterte along with his cabinet attended the event at the Sangley Point naval base in Cavite. Duterte’s prepared speech delivered to gathered PN officers and media extolled the branch’s success in maritime search and rescue and anti-piracy operations. The presence of the two AW159 maritime helicopters are a sure sign the Philippine military is making a determined pivot toward territorial defense in its ongoing modernization. The AW159’s are twin engine multirole assets that can conduct several missions outside tracking submarines. The persistence of smuggling and other illicit activities in Philippine waters means intelligence and surveillance is another crucial role the AW159 must fulfill once these are assigned to the upcoming Jose Rizal-class frigates made by Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Duterte did mention the incident on June 9 when a fishing vessel was rammed by a Chinese ship. In a statement published on June 12, the Department of National Defense (DND) condemned the perpetrators for their abandonment of 22 Filipino crew members left adrift in Recto Bank and then rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel that later transferred them to a PN frigate. The resulting media coverage and public outcry over the incident compelled the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a diplomatic protest while the Duterte administration’s spokesman released a critical statement.

Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank, is located in the eastern edge of the Spratly Islands some 200 kilometers away from Palawan and falls within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ. The crew of the fishing vessel named F/B Gem-Ver hailed from the province of Occidental Mindoro and were caught unaware by the Chinese ship that smashed their hull, forcing them to evacuate. In the days that followed the DND’s own account of the incident, Duterte’s long silence was deemed unacceptable.

But during his speech to the PN this week, Duterte tried putting matters in perspective. “There will be rules for a military confrontation. There will be rules for a mistaken identity attack,” he told the audience. “There are rules for fishermen’s boats. There’s a rule for an aircraft carrier bumping a banca boat, a fishing boat.”

Footage from the event broadcast by local news caught Duterte’s own blunt take on the June 9 incident. “It’s just a ship collision, do not make it worse,” he said. But this particular statement isn’t found in the official transcript shared by the government. Duterte instead reminded his audience that rashness must be avoided. “If I had to choose, I want action,” he admitted. “But I’m not in my boyhood age anymore.”

When he was in Davao City on June 21 for another occasion Duterte revisited the Recto Bank issue to clarify his stance. “That’s a maritime incident or accident, like a highway collision,” he said. In a deliberate jab at his critics, Duterte reminded everyone why he’s willing to compromise with Beijing. “I am not afraid of China, I am afraid that we [the Philippines] are helpless against them… America has the right to interfere if it becomes a bloody confrontation.”

Beyond Duterte’s own misgivings on the rift between China and the US, the PN’s newfound confidence in its latest acquisitions was obvious for its 121st birthday on June 17. The AAVs in particular cements the importance of South Korea as a supplier to the Philippine military and there are strong indicators that Manila and Seoul are ready for new arms deals in the 2020s.

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